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Call for church panel to investigate sexual abuse

The Catholic Church must establish an independent lay panel to look into allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy, if comments attributed to Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Dr George Pell, are representative of the church's attitude, a former NSW Commissioner for Equal Opportunity said yesterday.

Geoff Cahill, a Catholic lawyer, said that only a truly independent body was fit to investigate complaints of abuse against children and young people, given the insensitive attitude that still appeared to prevail in the church.

"This does demonstrate a grave misunderstanding of the whole issue of sexual abuse in the church. It sounds less like theology and more like damage control."

Dr Pell reportedly told 500 delegates attending World Youth Day in Toronto last week that abortion was "a greater moral scandal" than sexual abuse committed against young people by Catholic priests and others in the church. His comments caused an outcry in the Canadian media.

Sydney's Catholic media office said yesterday that Dr Pell had "gone on retreat" and would not be contactable until he returned to Australia at the end of the week.

Mr Cahill, who has provided legal advice, counselling and representation to victims of sexual abuse over the past 10 years, said Dr Pell's comparison of abortion and sexual abuse was nonsense.

Hetty Johnston, president of the sex abuse victims' support group Bravehearts, yesterday repeated her call for a royal commission into the Catholic Church. She said it was unacceptable that governments were prepared to incur the costs of royal commissions into failed insurance companies and the building industry, but were unwilling to shoulder responsibility for an inquiry into sexual abuse against children.

Pell to face dissent on abortion quote (The Age)
Pell under fire over abuse remarks (AAP)
Pell calls abortion a greater crime than sex abuse (29/7/02)
Lawyer urges transparency in sex abuse response (16/7/02)
Abuse protocol needs compliance agency, not lip service (Geoff Cahill)
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30 Jul 2002